Part 10

The Infinite

by Aristotle Icon

The infinite is either that which is incapable of being traversed because it is not its nature to be traversed (this corresponds to the sense in which the voice is ‘invisible’), or that which admits only of incomplete traverse or scarcely admits of traverse, or that which, though it naturally admits of traverse, is not traversed or limited.

Further, a thing may be infinite in respect of addition or of subtraction, or both. The infinite cannot be a separate, independent thing.

For if it is neither a spatial magnitude nor a plurality, but infinity itself is its substance and not an accident of it, it will be indivisible; for the divisible is either magnitude or plurality.

But if indivisible, it is not infinite, except as the voice is invisible; but people do not mean this, nor are we examining this sort of infinite, but the infinite as untraversable. Further, how can an infinite exist by itself, unless number and magnitude also exist by themselvess-since infinity is an attribute of these? Further, if the infinite is an accident of something else, it cannot be qua infinite an element in things, as the invisible is not an element in speech, though the voice is invisible. And evidently the infinite cannot exist actually.

For then any part of it that might be taken would be infinite (for ’to be infinite’ and ’the infinite’ are the same, if the infinite is substance and not predicated of a subject).

Therefore it is either indivisible, or if it is partible, it is divisible into infinites; but the same thing cannot be many infinites (as a part of air is air, so a part of the infinite would be infinite, if the infinite is substance and a principle). Therefore it must be impartible and indivisible. But the actually infinite cannot be indivisible; for it must be of a certain quantity. Therefore infinity belongs to its subject incidentally. But if so, then (as we have said) it cannot be it that is a principle, but that of which it is an accident-the air or the even number.

“This inquiry is universal.

but that the infinite is not among sensible things, is evident from the following argument. If the definition of a body is ’that which is bounded by planes’, there cannot be an infinite body either sensible or intelligible; nor a separate and infinite number, for number or that which has a number is numerable. Concretely, the truth is evident from the following argument. The infinite can neither be composite nor simple. For (a) it cannot be a composite body, since the elements are limited in multitude. For the contraries must be equal and no one of them must be infinite; for if one of the two bodies falls at all short of the other in potency, the finite will be destroyed by the infinite. And that each should be infinite is impossible.

For body is that which has extension in all directions, and the infinite is the boundlessly extended, so that if the infinite is a body it will be infinite in every direction.

Nor (b) can the infinite body be one and simple-neither, as some say, something apart from the elements, from which they generate these (for there is no such body apart from the elements; for everything can be resolved into that of which it consists, but no such product of analysis is observed except the simple bodies), nor fire nor any other of the elements. For apart from the question how any of them could be infinite, the All, even if it is finite, cannot either be or become any one of them, as Heraclitus says all things sometime become fire. The same argument applies to this as to the One which the natural philosophers posit besides the elements. For everything changes from contrary to contrary, e.g. from hot to cold.

Further, a sensible body is somewhere, and whole and part have the same proper place, e.g. the whole earth and part of the earth.

Therefore if (a) the infinite body is homogeneous, it will be unmovable or it will be always moving. But this is impossible; for why should it rather rest, or move, down, up, or anywhere, rather than anywhere else? E.g. if there were a clod which were part of an infinite body, where will this move or rest? The proper place of the body which is homogeneous with it is infinite. Will the clod occupy the whole place, then? And how? (This is impossible.)

What then is its rest or its movement? It will either rest everywhere, and then it cannot move; or it will move everywhere, and then it cannot be still. But (b) if the All has unlike parts, the proper places of the parts are unlike also, and, firstly, the body of the All is not one except by contact, and, secondly, the parts will be either finite or infinite in variety of kind.

Finite they cannot be; for then those of one kind will be infinite in quantity and those of another will not (if the All is infinite), e.g. fire or water would be infinite, but such an infinite element would be destruction to the contrary elements. But if the parts are infinite and simple, their places also are infinite and there will be an infinite number of elements; and if this is impossible, and the places are finite, the All also must be limited.

In general, there cannot be an infinite body and also a proper place for bodies, if every sensible body has either weight or lightness. For it must move either towards the middle or upwards, and the infinite either the whole or the half of it-cannot do either; for how will you divide it? Or how will part of the infinite be down and part up, or part extreme and part middle? Further, every sensible body is in a place, and there are six kinds of place, but these cannot exist in an infinite body.

In general, if there cannot be an infinite place, there cannot be an infinite body; (and there cannot be an infinite place,) for that which is in a place is somewhere, and this means either up or down or in one of the other directions, and each of these is a limit.

“The infinite is not the same in the sense that it is a single thing whether exhibited in distance or in movement or in time, but the posterior among these is called infinite in virtue of its relation to the prior; i.e. a movement is called infinite in virtue of the distance covered by the spatial movement or alteration or growth, and a time is called infinite because of the movement which occupies it.

Part 11: Change

Some things change in an accidental sense, like that in which ’the musical’ may be said to walk.

Others change because something in them changes, i.e. the things that change in parts; the body becomes healthy, because the eye does.

But there is something which is by its own nature moved directly, and this is the essentially movable. The same distinction is found in the case of the mover; for it causes movement either in an accidental sense or in respect of a part of itself or essentially.

There is something that directly causes movement; and there is something that is moved, also the time in which it is moved, and that from which and that into which it is moved. But the forms and the affections and the place, which are the terminals of the movement of moving things, are unmovable, e.g. knowledge or heat; it is not heat that is a movement, but heating. Change which is not accidental is found not in all things, but between contraries, and their intermediates, and between contradictories. We may convince ourselves of this by induction.

That which changes changes either:

  • from positive into positive,
  • from negative into negative,
  • from positive into negative, or
  • from negative into positive

Positive here means affirmative.

Therefore, there must be 3 changes.

  1. From negative into negative is not change because there is no opposition.

  2. The change from the negative into the positive which is its contradictory is generation-absolute change absolute generation, and partial change partial generation;

  3. The change from positive to negative is destruction-absolute change absolute destruction, and partial change partial destruction.

If, then, ’that which is not’ has several senses, and movement can attach neither to that which implies putting together or separating, nor to that which implies potency and is opposed to that which is in the full sense (true, the not-white or not-good can be moved incidentally, for the not-white might be a man; but that which is not a particular thing at all can in no wise be moved), that which is not cannot be moved (and if this is so, generation cannot be movement; for that which is not is generated; for even if we admit to the full that its generation is accidental, yet it is true to say that ’not-being’ is predicable of that which is generated absolutely). Similarly rest cannot be long to that which is not. These consequences, then, turn out to be awkward, and also this, that everything that is moved is in a place, but that which is not is not in a place; for then it would be somewhere.

Nor is destruction movement; for the contrary of movement is rest, but the contrary of destruction is generation. Since every movement is a change, and the kinds of change are the three named above, and of these those in the way of generation and destruction are not movements, and these are the changes from a thing to its contradictory, it follows that only the change from positive into positive is movement.

The positives are either contrary or intermediate (for even privation must be regarded as contrary), and are expressed by an affirmative term, e.g. ’naked’ or ’toothless’ or ‘black’.


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